NEW YORK: For the first time, the United Nations is preparing to give members of the media unfettered access to its staff.
NEW YORK: For the first time, the United Nations is preparing to
give members of the media unfettered access to its staff.
The UN, one of the largest public organizations in the world and long a
bureaucratic black hole for journalists, revealed its first-ever written
media guidelines last week. These so-called ’ground rules’ even go so
far as to suggest that most talks should be on the record. For more
sensitive discussions, the difference between ’not for attribution’ and
’deep background’ is delineated.
The UN’s newfound media-friendliness is an attempt to give journalists
quick and honest responses and, according to one source, to help improve
the largely negative coverage of the body in the US.
’Most bureaucrats think there is not much to be gained and a whole lot
to lose from talking with journalists,’ said Fred Eckhard, spokesman for
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. ’We are trying to make this a more
friendly place for the press. We want to open this place up to
The ground rules also attempt to address poor internal communications
and means by which the organization can ease the flow of information
throughout the organization. ’Senior officials should share information
with those under their supervision and should keep each other informed
of their media activities,’ the guidelines read.
While the majority of press calls are handled by the public information
department (headed by communications director Shashi Tharoor), this
group has often been criticized for being unable to answer complicated
questions. To combat this, the guidelines stipulate that ’officials in
each department should be designated to speak about sensitive
The UN has also been slow to replace PR openings in other
Eckhard’s previous position, spokesperson for peacekeeping efforts, has
been vacant for two and a half years.
While the UN has not worked extensively with any PR agency, David Finn,
chairman and chief executive of Ruder Finn (and, according to reports,
an Annan confidant), advises the UN on a pro bono basis. He was involved
in a decision last week not to respond to attacks on the Secretary
General in a Talk magazine article by former UN Special Commission chief
Richard Butler. Finn interviewed Annan last year for RF’s ’The Value of
Values’ series of presentations.
Also working on the UN’s behalf is the Ted Turner-backed Better World
Fund, which has organized press briefings about the UN’s charitable